I'm not sure if I've mentioned my fitful relationship with shrimp of late. In my heart, I love the curly shellfish. In practice this is less and less the case. The shrimp I've found in local markets and the frozen muck they sell at Trader Joe's has left me wondering what I ever saw in the pink crustaceans. In Puerto Vallarta last September, we were popping shrimp like no tomorrow. They were all scrumptious, succulent morsels. At home, not so much.
I realize that purchasing your shrimp at highly reputable vendors is the key to enjoyment. I'm currently stuck on McCall's Meat & Fish in Los Feliz. They're pricey as hell, but the quality is so high that you start to feel weird about shopping at lesser institutions like Gelsons (especially because their fish is expensive, yet lacking a healthy sheen and really tastes mediocre at best) or Whole Foods (because they are so expensive and their beef is lacking in tenderness and flavor). With McCall's, I've never been disappointed. I just can't afford to shop there exclusively.
Of course an outstanding preparation will certainly increase your odds of success. When I was preparing mussels with sherry and chorizo the other night, I started to remember a shrimp dish that I'd eaten back in Santa Cruz; something with cherry tomatoes and lots of butter. A quick phone call to my old pal, Eric, had me on the right track. He reminded me that it was a Gerald Hirigoyen (great Basque chef based in San Francisco) recipe that I was after.
Thank goodness for Google. I found the recipe I was looking for within seconds, and with a short trip down the hill to Cookbook for herbs, I was all set.
The recipe that I speak of is Hirigoyen's Sautéed Shrimp in Pastis with Lemon and Cherry Tomatoes. The preparation is ultra-simple. Making this on a weeknight is a breeze. I think your only complaint might be the liberal use of butter. The recipe is supposed to serve four. I used a pound of shrimp instead of a pound and a quarter and it served two with one serving left for little Fe. the next day (hurrah, he's finally allowed to eat shellfish!). That being said, a stick of butter may seem like an awful lot for a dinner for two and a shorty.
But what the hell?! You've got to let yourself go every so often and this dish is a perfect reason to do just that. Plus it's exciting! Pyrotechnics! You light the pastis (I used Ricard.) on fire!!
Flambé all the way!
I had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that the recipe does not call for garlic or shallots. It felt positively unnatural to make a sautéed shrimp dish without one or both. I'll tell you confidently that it actually does not need it. I couldn't help myself so I sautéed a crushed clove of garlic in the olive oil for a minute or two (then tossed it) before adding the shrimp. Truth be told, I could barely taste it and not for even one second did I miss the alliums.
You sauté the shrimp in the hot olive oil, add the halved cherry tomatoes, add the pastis, and then flambé until the flame dies out. You add lemon juice, herbs, butter and salt and pepper and simply swish the pan around until the butter is completely incorporated. Presto, your dinner is ready. Serve it with a small heap of fragrant rice for ultimate satisfaction or perhaps a nest of slippery noodles.
The recipe calls for basil, but I opted for tarragon since it pairs so well with pastis. The butter is cut into smallish cubes to ease the melting and emulsifying. You want to be sure not to boil the sauce or the lovely emulsion that results from your gentle pan swishing will break and the beurre-blanc like sauce will be shot. Careful!
This is a buttery, herbaceous dish full of basil (or tarragon), parsley and chives that packs a nice citrus hit from the ample use of lemon juice. The flambéed pastis adds a warm anise flavor that ties the entire dish together. It's quick work, but it would easily impress your Saturday night dinner guests.
Gerald Hirigoyen's Sautéed Prawns in Pastis with Lemon and Cherry Tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds shrimp (approximately 30) (I used fewer larger shrimp), shelled and de-veined
10 ounces cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 tablespoons Pastis, such as Ricard or Pernod
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Warm the olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté for about 2 minutes stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and the Pastis, and flambé until the flame dies out. Add the lemon juice, butter, basil, parsley, and chives and season with salt and pepper to taste. Swirl the pan over the heat just until the butter is completely melted into the sauce. Take care not to boil, or the sauce may separate.